One story, two tales: how the media shaped global public opinion
It’s often said that there are two sides to every story. All too often, media consumers in different markets are subjected to vastly different narratives, which are often influenced by differing cultures, political agendas and public relations campaigns. A prime example of this is the recent wave of soccer violence in France between English and Russian hooligans at the 2016 UEFA European Championship.
Unfortunately, hooliganism and anti-social behavior at soccer events is not a recent phenomenon. In the United Kingdom, most experts agree that the violence started to become a problem in the 1960s, escalated in the 1970s and turned into outright warfare in the 1980s. After multiple high-profile incidents, former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, set out to curb the rising tide of violence. Although tough measures have since been introduced, soccer ‘firms’ continue to cause headaches for law enforcement agencies throughout the United Kingdom.
When Russia and England drew 1-1 in their opening game, the media’s attention quickly turned to the running street battles between Russian and English thugs. Major British news outlets, such as The Sun, Daily Mail and Metro were quick to place the blame on “organized, vicious and highly trained” Russian hooligans that were more interested in causing trouble than enjoying the tournament’s festivities. Although British news outlets did acknowledge their compatriots involvement in the ugly scenes, they were quick to label the English fans as the victims.
In a report by the UK based news site, Halifax Courier, three English football fans were detained and issued sentences ranging from two months to two years in jail and banned from France after a brawl that broke out in Marseille involving 150 Russian hooligans. The English detainees reacted with apologetic responses and one stated, “I would like to say sorry to the police and to the people and city of Marseille. This is not like me; I’m not a violent person.” English Prime Minister, David Cameron, expressed concern over the issue and welcomed assistance in an investigation to end the violence and attacks. Cameron’s spokeswoman remarks, “We welcome UEFA’s decision to launch an investigation into the violence and we will look at how we can support that while engaging with our European partners.”
On the other side, the Russian media were equally as quick to label the English fans as the aggressors and argued their citizens were merely “defending themselves.” Numerous Russian-based commentators accused the “cowardly” English fans of “awakening the Russian bear.” To much to the world’s astonishment, vice-speaker of the Russian State Duma, Igor Lebedev, Tweeted, “I do not see anything terrible in the fans fighting. On the contrary, well done our guys. Keep it up!” Lebedev continued to praise the Russian fans after the violence in Marseille, stating that they were only defending their country’s honor. “In nine out of 10 cases, football fans go to games to fight, and that’s normal. The lads defended the honour of their country and did not let English fans desecrate our motherland. We should forgive and understand our fans,” Lebedev told the The Guardian. Instead he placed the blame on police and the organizers inability to coordinate the event.
The media coverage between the British and Russian outlets portrays two very different angles for one story. The British response is apologetic, while the Russian’s response is on the defense for their countries pride and filled with self-justification. Without being involved in the events in any way, people can easily form their own opinions based on the way the media has portrayed the violence and each countries’ stance. Social media, broadcast news, and print all serve as powerful channels that influence our decisions. Without further research to capture the entire story or weigh different points of view, it is easy to succumb to another persons’ opinion on the matter. We should use the many accessible networks that we have – whether it’s the Internet, print or broadcast – to harness information with an open mind and to formulate our own educated opinions and response. Let’s get back to the real stars of the game and play some soccer!